15 September 2011

Only the most dangerous mountain walk in the world... [Xian, China]

After my experience on the train from Beijing, the very first thing I did when I got into Xian was to buy my onward train ticket to Shanghai. The only place available was a hard seat (no sleepers) for the day after I wanted. All I could say was "BOOK IT! BOOK IT!".

I didn't have time to look for a host in Xi'an so I ended up staying at the Seven Sages Hostel - a very cool hostel near the train station. Again I was surprised by the number of Chinese people! While there were some foreigners, we were heavily outnumbered.

That day I went to check out the headline attraction - the Terracotta Warriors. The site has been completely overhauled and looks very modern. A whole little town of restaurants and souvenir shops has sprung up. Not very authentic... At the site we first visited the museum, then the three 'pits' which contain the warriors. We had no idea where to go, so visited the pits in a random order - two, three, then one. It turned out to be a perfect order. Two is a HUGE area filled with a lot of remains, broken pieces of warriors and horses. Three is much smaller and contains some complete warriors and horses. And one is the big tamale - containing 6,000 warriors and horses. Pit one is quite impressive, and at some angles it looks like a real army, standing there silently waiting to go into battle.

My CouchSurfing host from Beijing (Berta) told me all about Hua Shan (Hua mountain) which is a couple of hours outside Xi'an. It is apparently one of the most dangerous mountains to climb, with several sets of near vertical steps and one area called the 'Plank Walk', where you walk out on boards over the edge of the mountain (Berta's vid) on nothing but thin boards. I had to check this out.

The day I planned to go I was still feeling a little shitty (flu) and it was raining. But the forecast was for rain for the next three days, so I thought screw it and went anyway. I spent two days on the mountain - one climbing up, the second exploring and climbing down. It was very cloudy/misty and visibility was really poor. While it gave the mountain a cool eerie feel, you could not really see the scenery which was quite disappointing. The other thing which was a little disappointing was that the whole way up and around the top of the mountain is a concrete path. The mountain has been covered in paths and steps. Berta said to me it is like the Chinese need to conquer nature, and it really does seem that way.

There may be stairs, but this is no cake walk. The climb is hard-core. Some of the stairs are insane! I stopped at one very steep point that stretched out below me for about 50m to take a photo. My bag rolled down a couple of steps, almost out of my grasp. It was then that I realised - shit, this is STEEP. If I slipped or fell I would not be getting up afterward. There is also shops selling drinks and little souvenirs every few hundred meters up the mountain. It felt more like a tourist attraction than a mountain hike. Especially as they have installed a cable car, so there are thousands of tourists who just want to see the top of the mountain without actually putting in any work. The crowds around these areas are crazy - which feels really strange for being on the top of a mountain.

OK, now I have got all that off my chest - Hau Shan was very beautiful. What I could see through the clouds was spectacular. I met a couple of cool Chinese guys (Lee and David) on the way up who I ended up hanging out with for most of the time. When we got to the top the rain had eased and we wanted to go out onto 'Sparrow Hawk Cliff' at the East Peak, but unfortunately it was closing just as we arrived. I said "Don't worry, tomorrow is going to be bright sunshine!". We found the cheapest hostel on the mountain together (at Dian Feng) at Y60 a night, and basically crashed. It had been a huge day!

The next morning we woke to pouring rain. So both the Sparrow Hawk Cliff on the East Peak and the Plank Walk on the South Peak were closed. We did a quick trek out to the four peaks before making our way down the mountain. Lee and David were quite keen to take the cable car down, at a price of Y80 (about €8). I was 50/50 when it started chucking it down. Soaking wet, cold, tired and sore, I decided to take the car. That is until I actually got to the ticket office and had to part with the cash. The rain had eased up and I was feeling a little better. There was another path underneath the cable car that was more much more direct that the route up. I decided to take it.

I would really not recommend taking this path up the mountain. It was brutal, basically steep stairs straight down the side of the mountain. Some spots were literally vertical. It was quite hard going as my legs were already jelly from the climb the day before, and the steps were soaking wet and slippery. But I am glad I decided to walk as there were some beautiful views and a huge waterfall. At the bottom I met up with Lee and David again and we took the bus back to Xi'an.

My final day in Xi'an I spent with a CouchSurfer (Grace) just hanging out and seeing the sights of Xi'an. We checked out the Drum Tower, Bell Tower, Muslim District (which was very cool), a couple of temples, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the musical fountain in front of it (apparently one of the largest in the world). Xi'an itself is a really cool place and definitely worth spending a day to check out.

I had planned to go to visit Song Shan, the home of the Shaolin temple (any Kung-Fu enthusiast will know what I am talking about), but stupid visa requirements meant I needed to keep moving. So next up is Shanghai. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. It is so amazing that you are getting to see so many amazing things and have so many incredibly/insane experiences! Love the pictures :) and am forever jealous of your wanderlust.

    Can't wait to read more, safe journeys!


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